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Book Review: Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed: 15 Voices from the Latinx Diaspora edited by Saraciea J. Fennell

Publisher’s description

Edited by The Bronx Is Reading founder Saraciea J. Fennell and featuring an all-star cast of Latinx contributors, Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed is a ground-breaking anthology that will spark dialogue and inspire hope.

In Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed, bestselling and award-winning authors as well as up-and-coming voices interrogate the different myths and stereotypes about the Latinx diaspora. These fifteen original pieces delve into everything from ghost stories and superheroes, to memories in the kitchen and travels around the world, to addiction and grief, to identity and anti-Blackness, to finding love and speaking your truth. Full of both sorrow and joy, Wild Tongues Can’t Be Tamed is an essential celebration of this rich and diverse community. 

The bestselling and award-winning contributors include Elizabeth Acevedo, Cristina Arreola, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Naima Coster, Natasha Diaz, Saraciea J. Fennell, Kahlil Haywood, Zakiya Jamal, Janel Martinez, Jasminne Mendez, Meg Medina, Mark Oshiro, Julian Randall, Lilliam Rivera, and Ibi Zoboi.

Amanda’s thoughts

This anthology of personal essays has appeal far beyond just a teen audience, especially as many of the essay delve into the years beyond their teens. While I love anthologies, I don’t always read everything in them. I’ll skim some that are less appealing, skip others entirely after just a few sentences, etc. But here, I read all of them. This is a powerful and well put together collection.

The pieces included here cover a lot of ground. They speak of experiences from childhood through adulthood. They include authors from a bunch of places and backgrounds, writing about a wide variety of experiences, showing that, as Julian Randall writes, “There are as many ways to be Latinx as there are Latinx people” (81). Their essays cover things like culture, assimilation, community, belonging, language, religion, wholeness, resilience, and pride. They have complicated relationships to friends, family, places, history, and the idea of respectability. They struggle with being outsiders, with being immigrants, with the weight of expectations, with the presence and absence of people in their lives. They write about being invisible and being seen, about colorism, anti-Blackness, ancestry, power, whiteness, food, travel, acceptance, camaraderie, isolation, mental health, goals, dreams, love, survival, agency, and existence.

This wonderful and deeply personal look into 15 experiences from the Latinx diaspora will give readers plenty to think about and will surely make many readers feel seen and understood as they encounter authors whose lives, feelings, and experiences echo their own. A great collection.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781250763426
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Shame on You: Desi Shame Culture and its Impact on Muslim Kids, a guest post by Farah Naz Rishi

A long time ago, my local masjid hosted a Ramadan dinner, as it always did in the holy month of fasting for Muslims. Usually, these dinners meant praying together as a community, and breaking our fast together on a potluck style meal that involved samosas, curries, and the ubiquitous, vague semblance of a pasta dish.

However, I had other plans.

After that one particular dinner, under cloak of darkness, I slipped out of the masjid and walked to the nearby Sunday school, a small cottage that had been converted into a schoolhouse. That night, it was empty of students—save for the boy I was secretly “dating” at the time, waiting for me.

I cherished these Ramadan dinners because it was the only time he and I could see each other in person. Being South Asian Muslims in a conservative community meant hiding our illicit, budding romance, even if everyone already knew about it. It didn’t matter that we were a couple of awkward teens who only snuck out to talk, face-to-face, uninterrupted (we usually only talked through text messages). As far as anyone knew, we were lovers in the dark, the epitome of sin. All our lives, we’d been taught that the performance of being a “good Muslim,” of maintaining one’s public image for the sake of family and community honor, was to be valued above all else. A lesson that clearly didn’t take.

Which is why, when we were caught that night, one uncle in our community loudly proclaimed that if we were caught alone again, he would break our legs. My parents didn’t speak to me for days.

I was fourteen years old.

In IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU, protagonists Kiran and Deen, who dated in the past, reveal that they had made pact to hide their relationship from their family. Kiran notes that she kept her relationship with Deen a secret because she didn’t want to “add stress” to her family: “Dating in the casual sense,” she says, “is still frowned upon Muslim communities, and it’s not something you can openly talk about unless you’ve practically made a formal Jane Austen-style declaration that you’re in pursuit of a life partner.” In the Muslim community I grew up in, this was precisely the case; dating carried a stigma, and that to date meant that I was a sinner, that I must have a weak faith. Regardless of my own religious beliefs—individual beliefs that I was still developing myself, on top of everything else—it felt that my community demanded I follow their brain trust iron-clad rules. That in some way, developing my own personal beliefs was wrong, too.

I wasn’t alone in this feeling. Although there are exceptions, many South Asian teens are expected to live up to their parents’ origin country’s cultural and religious standards, or at the very least, do so on the surface—all in the name of maintaining public image and family honor. And when one fails to do so, like in the case of Deen, one carries that shame and guilt for years to come, a weight that drowns you in a sea of expectation, and can lead to a self-destructive spiral.

The concept of honor reflects a family’s reputation and prestige within a community; and individual actions can raise of lower the entire family’s honor. Looking back on my own past experiences, it almost makes sense why some Muslim teens want to leave their community altogether: It gets exhausting seeing everything through the lens of shame and honor. Every act in life carries the extra consideration of, how would this affect my family and community? As if life isn’t already difficult as it is for a brown teenager.

Also exhausting? Being a second-generation immigrant teen balancing mainstream Western cultural norms and one’s family’s traditional values. It can often feel like an isolating experience, growing up too “westernized” to be accepted by the motherland, but too brown to be anything else. You are forever the Other. It makes sense, then, to find love with a fellow misfit trapped in the same limbo space. In this love, you can find an ally: someone who understands why you can’t go to sleepovers with friends from school, why you can’t go to school dances, and why sometimes it feels impossible to reconcile the need for emotional connection with your parent’s religious views.  

But for those teens who aren’t lucky enough to find that ally, the sense of isolation can prevent them from seeking help when they need it most. In the case of Deen’s older brother, Faisal, the pressures of growing up in an influential family, of being anything less than perfect, became too much to handle. And instead of having an open, transparent conversation—one necessary for healing—Faisal’s parents tell him to hide his pain for the sake of the family’s honor. Of course, this eventually results in Faisal’s sense of failure reaching an unavoidable and dangerous fever pitch. For many, this is an experience far from fiction. As “shame culture” is most utilized as a method of control in Asian communities, Asian American young adults are the only racial group with suicide as their leading cause of death (source: https://theconversation.com/asian-american-young-adults-are-the-only-racial-group-with-suicide-as-their-leading-cause-of-death-so-why-is-no-one-talking-about-this-158030).

I wrote IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU because I wanted my younger self to feel seen and understood. I wanted a wider audience to understand how difficult it was to grow up, for better or worse, in a tight-knit community that felt like it was always watching, and how the threat of shame can have very real, dangerous consequences on our mental health, and stain the perfectly innocent act of growing up.

My parents and I never spoke again of that night at the Sunday School. Despite their obvious disappointment with me, they carried on as if nothing happened. Instead of using it as a learning opportunity, a chance to connect and know more about their daughter’s personal life, they swept it under the rug. I suppose the public shaming we received was enough.

But there’s no room for growth if we’re not allowed to make mistakes. The irony is that using “shame culture” as a weapon to control often drives teens to hide under cloak of night, and internalize that hiding our shame is better than communicating it—the original problem that drove Kiran and Deen apart in the past. This is precisely why I wrote IT ALL COMES BACK TO YOU: to show South Asian Muslim teens who are finally able to break the silence—and that ultimately, the most important lesson any teen can learn is that despite those who pretend otherwise, we’re human, flaws and all.

And there’s no shame in that.

Meet the author

Farah Naz Rishi is a Pakistani American Muslim writer and voice actor, but in another life, she’s worked stints as a lawyer, a video game journalist, and an editorial assistant. She received her BA in English from Bryn Mawr College, her JD from Lewis & Clark Law School, and her love of weaving stories from the Odyssey Writing Workshop. When she’s not writing, she’s probably hanging out with video game characters. She is the author of I Hope You Get This Message. You can find her at home in Philadelphia, or on Twitter and Instagram @farahnazrishi. Learn more at https://farahnazrishi.com.

About It All Comes Back to You

Two exes must revisit their past after their siblings start dating in this rom-com perfect for fans of Sandhya Menon and Morgan Matson.

After Kiran Noorani’s mom died, Kiran vowed to keep her dad and sister, Amira, close—to keep her family together. But when Amira announces that she’s dating someone, Kiran’s world is turned upside down.

Deen Malik is thrilled that his brother, Faisal, has found a great girlfriend. Maybe a new love will give Faisal a new lease on life, and Deen can stop feeling guilty for the reason that Faisal needs a do-over in the first place.

When the families meet, Deen and Kiran find themselves face to face. Again. Three years ago—before Amira and Faisal met—Kiran and Deen dated in secret. Until Deen ghosted Kiran.

And now, after discovering hints of Faisal’s shady past, Kiran will stop at nothing to find answers. Deen just wants his brother to be happy—and he’ll do whatever it takes to keep Kiran from reaching the truth. Though the chemistry between Kiran and Deen is undeniable, can either of them take down their walls?

ISBN-13: 9780062741486
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Cindy Crushes Programming: Tips for Me, and Maybe You Too, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

So at my library I have begun to program in person again. It has been a challenge for sure. The first program I did was a pirate themed scavenger hunt. I had no one sign up. I did get two to do it who had walked into the library. Then I did a backyard clean up of the library for volunteering. It was eventful. We got locked in the courtyard. Oops. We found a dead animal. We also found trash that should have not been left under our tree. So I started to remember what in person programming was like. I have to remind myself that everything is different. Here are the things I told myself:

  1. Low attendance is okay: Not all teens are vaccinated. I would rather teens be safe than sorry.
  2. We are starting over again: A lot of my teens aged out and I have not been doing school visits because of Covid so the younger teens do not really know me and what the library offers to teens.
  3. Do not spend a lot of money right now: We do not know how the attendance numbers will be so try to not do programs that will take up a lot of our budget.
  4. Keep doing some virtual programs: We know that some teens can not get to the library right now and this is a way to keep them engaged with the library.
  5. Try to not do too many educational programs: Things are hard and teens want to have fun and be able to take their minds off the pandemic.
  6. Do not over program: This is the number one thing I have to tell myself. I love doing programming but quality over quantity is key with programming.
  7. Be kind to yourself: You are dealing with a lot right now. The pandemic is still here and does not seem to be going away as much as we wish it would.
  8. Let things go: If something happens and you have to cancel a program that is okay. Things happen. It does not make you a bad person to cancel a program.
  9. Listen to the teens: This is what I have been doing the most. I am trying to do stuff that they want to do. Not things I think are cool. They are going through a hard time. We have to try to help them.
  10. It’s okay to be upset: If a program goes wrong it is okay to be upset and feel those feelings. You do not have to lie to yourself about how you feel.

Cindy Shutts, MLIS

Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

A Final Season, a guest post by Tim Green

Although Final Season is a work of fiction, much of the story is true. Because I have already used my own kids’ names and personalities as the main characters in my Football Genius series, I’ve chosen to use everyone’s middle name in this story, including my own middle name of John. Instead of the Green family, we are the Redds. Many of the other characters, especially Ben’s teammates in football and lacrosse are based on real kids with their real names and personalities. However, some, like Tuna and Woody, are entirely fictitious. I also added two characters, Thea and Rohan, who are my grandkids and too young to have been in the actual story, but whose personalities are spot on. 

At the heart of Final Season is the question of whether football is safe for kids to play. Our family was split on this, and I contend that there is no right answer, but only a choice that parents and kids must make according to their own beliefs and priorities.

The author in his NFL days.

For me, it was the right decision, despite the cost. Football paid for my education and my kids’ educations. Football opened doors in writing, business, television, and law. Football built our family’s home on a beautiful lake in a picturesque town, and enough land for each of our kids to build their own homes. Also, being an NFL player made my biggest childhood dream come true. 

My second big childhood dream was to become a writer. I have loved reading books since the third grade. To me, books were magic. They could take me away to another time and place. They could make me laugh and make me cry. In the heroes, I could see something of myself, or something I wanted to be. In the villains, I saw the things I didn’t want to be. So, I ached to make magic of my own one day. I was fortunate to have mentors and role models as an English major at Syracuse University who are giants in the world of literature, and others who are just plain brilliant. 

So, when ALS tried to take writing away from me, I fought back hard. One of my first symptoms of the disease was the loss of strength and coordination in my fingers. I had spent nearly thirty-five years writing and therefore typing every day. When I first started out I longed for the day when the words would just flow from my mind through my fingers to the page. It took many years for that to happen, but it did, and I was loath to give it up. 

Finally, my fingers became useless, but my thumbs still had some life left in them. I knew because I could text on my smartphone pretty well.  Asked myself if I could write an entire three hundred page novel with my thumbs. My answer was, “Why not?” So, in 2017 I wrote The Big Game on my phone with my thumbs. Then my thumbs went the way of my fingers. I had to find something that could get the stories out of my mind and onto the page. A friend who I told of my dilemma found a company called Lyre Bird. They had developed a system where I could stick a dot on my glasses so a sensor could pick up the movement of my head. With it, I could move the mouse across the screen, select a letter, and press a large button to type it. 

I wrote my next book using that system, but my body continued to succumb to the disease, and I grew nervous about committing myself to another technology that would one day probably fail me. Around the same time I developed pneumonia and nearly died. To save me, the medical team had to give me an emergency tracheotomy, leaving me literally speechless. Advanced technology saved me again with a cutting edge computer program that could take all the audio book recordings I’d narrated over the years and synthesize my voice. To do this I had to use another new technology, a Tobii Dynavox Eye Tracker.  

The Tracker allows me to select letters by resting my gaze on the letters of a keyboard that takes up a little less than half of an iPad. Knowing that this method would avail itself to me for the rest of my life, I committed to the transition. Like all the previous methods for writing, it gets better with age, and the first chapter of Final Season took thrice the time as the last. Even with that improvement, I doubt I’ll ever have the fluidity of typing with my fingers. Nevertheless, I will continue to write, for you, and for me. I sincerely hope you enjoy reading Final Season as much as I enjoyed writing it. 

Meet the author

TIM GREEN is a retired professional American football player, a radio and television personality, and a bestselling author. He was a linebacker and defensive end with the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL, a commentator for National Public Radio and NFL on Fox, and the former host of the 2005 revival of A Current Affair. In 2018, Green announced on social media that he was diagnosed with ALS and was featured on 60 Minutes discussing his life and struggles with the disease. He lives in upstate New York with his wife and close to all of his five children.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authortimgreen

Instagram & Twitter: @Timgreenbooks

About Final Season

From New York Times bestselling author and former NFL player Tim Green comes a gripping, deeply personal standalone football novel about a star middle school quarterback faced with a life-changing decision after his dad is diagnosed with ALS. Perfect for fans of Mike Lupica!

With two all-star college football players for brothers and a former Atlanta Falcons defensive lineman for a father, it is only natural for sixth-grade quarterback Benjamin Redd to follow in their footsteps.

However, after his dad receives a heartbreaking ALS diagnosis—connected to all those hard hits and tackles he took on the field—Ben’s mom becomes more determined than ever to get Ben to quit football.

Ben isn’t playing just for himself though. This might be his dad’s last chance to coach. And his teammates need a quarterback that can lead them to the championships. But as Ben watches the heavy toll ALS takes on his dad’s body, he begins to question if this should be his final season after all. 

ISBN-13: 9780062485953
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

How to Pronounce Quach, a guest post by Michelle Quach

Many years ago, while reading Sideways Stories from Wayside School, I stumbled upon this tidbit in Louis Sachar’s author bio:

When Louis Sachar was going to school, his teachers always pronounced his name wrong. Now that he has become a popular author of children’s books teachers all over the country are pronouncing his name wrong.”

That made me chuckle. I was nine, and teachers had been pronouncing my name wrong for years, too.

My last name is Quach, which, like Sachar, has that elusive hard “ch” sound that has thrown off many, many Americans. I don’t blame them—“Quash” or “Quatch” both seem like perfectly reasonable guesses for a name that looks like Quach. But I didn’t see why I should have a name that sounded like “squash” or “crotch” when I could instead be a much more solid Quach. One that rhymed with nouns of substance, like “lock” and ”rock.”

In spite of the trouble, however, I’ve always liked my name. In one word, it uniquely encapsulates my family’s complicated history—a history that I’ve often found hard to explain.

Quach is an Americanized version of the Vietnamese Quách, which itself is derived from the Chinese surname 郭 (often romanized as Kwok or Guo). It’s common among people like my family, ethnic Chinese who lived in Vietnam for several generations before they immigrated to the U.S. as refugees. We might still be living in Hanoi now if it hadn’t been for the aftermath of the Vietnam War.

So whenever I’ve been asked what I “am,” the answer has been complicated. Growing up, I wasn’t exactly sure how to identify. It wasn’t quite as clean-cut as if, say, my mom were Chinese and my dad were Vietnamese. In reality, both sides of my family are technically Chinese: my ancestors originated in southern China, and the one language that almost all of us still speak is Cantonese. But my grandparents and parents were born in Vietnam—to say that they’re not really Vietnamese is like saying I’m not really American. Vietnamese has been as much part of our household as English.

Still, when I talk to Chinese people, I don’t quite feel Chinese enough, and when I talk to Vietnamese people, I don’t feel quite Vietnamese enough. This is true even when I talk to Chinese- and Vietnamese-Americans, because their histories—where their families came from and how they made their way to the U.S.—are often so different from mine.

It wasn’t until I learned the concept of diaspora that I finally began to feel seen. For the first time, I had the vocabulary to describe my muddled identity, and I learned that my family was less “Chinese” than “overseas Chinese.” Specifically, they were already overseas Chinese before they came to America, and that—with their code-switching between languages, fusion of cultural cuisines, and history of migration and displacement—has always been a distinct and valid way of being Chinese. It also, I realized, happens to be a valid way of being Vietnamese—and a valid way of being American, too.

When I started writing Not Here to Be Liked, I knew I wanted Eliza, the main character, to share my experiences as a child of Asian immigrants, but I wasn’t sure how to approach her background. I wondered if patterning it on my own would require too much explanation, and I briefly considered making her Chinese-American in a way that most readers would already understand. Ultimately, though, I wanted the book to be true to the diversity in the Asian American experience, so I gave her an identity as multifaceted as my own.

I feel incredibly fortunate that I now have the opportunity to write about characters like me, with families like mine. I’m proud to contribute in some small way to the complexity of Asian representation, and I hope that Eliza’s story will resonate with readers like my younger self.

Maybe, if I’m lucky, teachers all over the country will be saying my name, too—the right way.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Lauritta Stellers

Michelle Quach is a Chinese-Vietnamese-American who also spent a lot of time working for student newspapers–including The Crimson at Harvard College, where she earned a BA in history and literature. Currently a graphic designer at a brand strategy firm in Los Angeles, Not Here to be Liked is her first novel.

Buy Michelle’s book at one of her favorite indie bookstores, The Ripped Bodice.

About Not Here to Be Liked

Emergency Contact meets Moxie in this cheeky and searing novel that unpacks just how complicated new love can get…when you fall for your enemy.

Eliza Quan is the perfect candidate for editor in chief of her school paper. That is, until ex-jock Len DiMartile decides on a whim to run against her. Suddenly her vast qualifications mean squat because inexperienced Len—who is tall, handsome, and male—just seems more like a leader.

When Eliza’s frustration spills out in a viral essay, she finds herself inspiring a feminist movement she never meant to start, caught between those who believe she’s a gender equality champion and others who think she’s simply crying misogyny.

Amid this growing tension, the school asks Eliza and Len to work side by side to demonstrate civility. But as they get to know one another, Eliza feels increasingly trapped by a horrifying realization—she just might be falling for the face of the patriarchy himself.

ISBN-13: 9780063038363
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Things I Never Learned in Library School: Problems with the Supply Chain and What it Means for Libraries

If you build it, they will come. If you buy a book, it will be on your shelf. Except when there are problems with the supply chain.

If you’ve been to the grocery store or a restaurant lately, you’ve probably seen signs saying something to the effect of, “due to problems outside of our control, the item you want may not be in. We apologize for any inconvenience.” That problem beyond their control is the supply chain and it is also affecting the book biz, which is and can affect libraries.

My Twitter timeline is full of bookstores, publishers and authors noting that the supply chain issue is impacting the sale of books and you should order early. I know that when I look at various public library catalogs books with release dates in the past still show as not being in the catalog and this, too, is the supply chain problem.

Here are some articles on this very issue:

https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/manufacturing/article/86833-high-costs-services-disruptions-plague-book-biz-supply-chain.html

https://www.bookweb.org/news/book-industry-supply-chain-delays-impact-holiday-season-1626295

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-08-25/the-world-economy-s-supply-chain-problem-keeps-getting-worse

You can also google “supply chain issues” and get a lot of interesting articles on the topic. It’s not just being caused by the pandemic, though having millions of people sick and dying certainly isn’t helping. It also has to do with our tendency to rely on on demand sales as opposed to having stock of certain items. Like all things economics, it’s complicated.

Also of note, there is a paper shortage that actually began before the pandemic but continues to be a problem. Forbes ran an article on it way back in 2019, when the world made a bit more sense.

What it means for libraries is this: books aren’t arriving when we think they should. Book publication dates are being pushed back. There is no way to predict what is going to happen with our book orders because the normal rules no longer apply. It’s anyone’s guess when or if that book will come in so that you can put it on the shelf. If you order a book, it does not mean it will come and if it does come, it may come far after you thought that it would/should.

This isn’t the type of post that I normally share, but it has popped up so much on my Twitter timeline this past week and I know we’re not all on Twitter so I thought I would take a moment to bring it to everyone’s attention. One thing I would recommend is that if you are finding that your books purchased before publication date aren’t coming in by publication date due to this issue, let all staff know about the supply chain issues affecting publishing. I know that as a person working with the public I would love to have this information in case a patron complains about us not having a book at release date; nothing is worse than being a person who has to deal with patrons face to face and not having the information you need to answer their complaints and address their issues. A quick message to let all library staff know about how supply chain issues are impacting the book publishing business may just help a coworker answer the complaints of a patron who doesn’t understand why you don’t have the book they want on the shelf in a timely manner. Also, I always think it helps libraries prove they are valuable and reliable information community resources when we actually have timely and valuable information to answer their concerns.

Debuting with Death, a guest post by Jessica Vitalis

When I was drafting what would turn out to be my debut novel, “The Wolf’s Curse,” I couldn’t have predicted that it would come out during a worldwide pandemic. With the entire world facing unimaginable levels of loss and grief, a Grim Reaper retelling might not seem like an auspicious beginning for my career.

But if it’s one thing writing this story taught me, it’s that processing grief isn’t only about resilience: It’s about rituals. It’s about community. It’s about hope –– the possibility that we might heal and, in so doing, find some measure of future happiness.

How we do that varies not only from person to person but from culture to culture. In North America, burials and cremations are the norm, along with funerals that allow loved ones to gather in remembrance of the departed. These rituals are part of our attempts to say goodbye, to come to terms with our grief. Having grown up in the United States, I thought these rituals were more or less the norm around the world.  But in researching death rituals while writing “The Wolf’s Curse,” I learned that they vary widely across cultures.

For example, some Tibetan Buddhists practice sky burials, where their bodies are left outside for birds and animals, thereby freeing the soul and continuing the circle of life. The Malagasy people of Madagascar have joyful ceremonies known as the “Turning of the Bones,” where approximately every five years, they perfume and/or rewrap their dead in fresh shrouds and dance near the tombs, and the Tinguian dress their dead in finery and seat them in a chair with a lit cigarette. One South American tribe is said to eat pieces of their dead to absorb their spirit, and the people of Kirbati exhume the skulls of the deceased to preserve and display in their homes.

Despite the many different traditions around the world, the rituals I encountered all share one common element: They bring comfort to the living. This realization was pivotal to writing “The Wolf’s Curse,” which is set in an early Renaissance-era seaside village. 

In my fictional world, the people believe that stars are actually lanterns lit by their loved ones once they reach the Sea-in-the-Sky and sail into eternity. The deceased are buried in boats with feathers, fishing gear and the other supplies they’ll need to make their journey. When my 12-year-old character loses his grandpapá and embarks on a journey to complete the old man’s Release ceremony, he’s stalked by a mythical Great White Wolf and ends up learning life-changing truths about the Wolf –– and about the nature of death.

The story is a twist on a Grim Reaper narrative, and it certainly explores grief and loss, but it also explores community, friendship and, most of all, the hope that comes with healing. The traditions and rituals might look different than the ones you and I are used to, but the emotions — the need for human connection and healing — are universal. Although I never could have foreseen the trials this year would bring, I’m grateful for the chance to share a story that might infuse a little more of this connection and healing in all our lives.

Meet the author

Jessica Vitalis is a Columbia MBA-wielding writer. She brings her experience growing up in a nontraditional childhood to her stories, exploring themes such as death and grief, domestic violence, and socio-economic disparities. An American expat, she now lives in Canada with her husband and two precocious daughters. She loves traveling, sailing and scuba diving, but when she’s at home, she can usually be found reading a book or changing the batteries in her heated socks. “The Wolf’s Curse” is her debut novel.

About The Wolf’s Curse

Shunned by his fearful village, a twelve-year-old apprentice embarks on a surprising quest to clear his name, with a mythic—and dangerous—wolf following closely at his heels. Jessica Vitalis’s debut is a gorgeous, voice-driven literary fantasy about family, fate, and long-held traditions. The Wolf’s Cursewill engross readers of The Girl Who Drank the Moon and A Wish in the Dark.

Gauge’s life has been cursed since the day he cried Wolf and was accused of witchcraft. The Great White Wolf brings only death, Gauge’s superstitious village believes. If Gauge can see the Wolf, then he must be in league with it.

So instead of playing with friends in the streets or becoming his grandpapa’s partner in the carpentry shop, Gauge must hide and pretend he doesn’t exist. But then the Wolf comes for his grandpapa. And for the first time, Gauge is left all alone, with a bounty on his head and the Wolf at his heels.

A young feather collector named Roux offers Gauge assistance, and he is eager for the help. But soon the two—both recently orphaned—are questioning everything they have ever believed about their village, about the Wolf, and about death itself. 

Narrated by the sly, crafty Wolf, Jessica Vitalis’s debut novel is a vivid and literary tale about family, friendship, belonging, and grief. The Wolf’s Curse will captivate readers of Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Islandand Molly Knox Ostertag’s The Witch Boy.

ISBN-13: 9780063067417
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/21/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Sunday Reflections: That Time I Tried to Talk About Being an Ally and the Book That Can Help Us All Have Those Conversations

Last summer, during the height of Black Lives Matter, I took 3 masked 12 year olds to the grocery store. All of us are white. As we were walking in, a Black man was walking out.

“Let’s raise our fists and yell Black Lives Matter,” one of them said.

And that started one of the most important conversations I have had in a long time with these girls.

I told them no, you shouldn’t do that and when they asked me why, I explained to them that this man was a stranger and he did not know owe us his time or attention. I told them that they were a group of giggling 12-year-old girls and he would not know if they were being sincere or mocking him and the movement. I told them that it would be wrong from them to assume that just because this man was Black that he agreed with Black Lives Matter or the current protests that were happening. I told them that they were not being helpful and would be centering themselves in this moment and possibly causing problems for this man, who as far as we know was just a man trying to go grab a gallon of milk or whatever.

And then they started talking about the Black Lives Matter events happening on social media. They talked about turning their avatars into black squares and when of them mentioned the black square with a raised fist one of the girls corrected the others and said, no you can’t use that one, it’s not for us. And I stood back and watched them all process and talk about what they were seeing and hearing on social media, jumping in every once and a while to correct some factual errors or add nuance along the way.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but we were having a conversation about being an ally and – there’s a book for that.

Allies is a nonfiction book that presents a variety of individual essays that talk about what it means to be an ally. It starts from the premise that there are no perfects allies and then asks you to sit and think about what it means to be one. From the very first introduction, you just get profound thoughts on top of more profound thoughts to think about. And it starts by asking us as allies to de-center ourselves, to listen, and to let the voices of those who we claim to be allies for to speak and amplify them whenever possible.

As a white woman raising white teenage daughters, the idea of raising allies is very important to me. We are a family of deep, abiding faith and we believe that it is important to love our neighbors as ourselves and to make the world a more just place in whatever ways we can. I also know that we benefit from our white privilege and, like those around us, we struggle with our own internalized misogyny and racism and all the other isms that we are indoctrinated with from birth in both overt and covert ways. Learning how to be a good human, a good Christian, and a good ally are life long processes. It’s a constant state of undoing, relearning, trying, failing, and then trying again.

I appreciated this book. It was a challenging read. It is a thoughtful read. It is an encouraging read. I’m getting each of those girls that walked with me through the grocery store that day their own copies. I know that they, like a lot of teens in today’s generation, are very much wanting to change the world for good. But even people with the best of intentions make huge mistakes along the way. Allies won’t make it so they become the most perfect allies, but it will help them to become more thoughtful and better ones on their journey.

Publisher’s Book Description:

This book is for everyone. Because we can all be allies.

As an ally, you use your power—no matter how big or small—to support others. You learn, and try, and mess up, and try harder. In this collection of true stories, 17 critically acclaimed and bestselling YA authors get real about being an ally, needing an ally, and showing up for friends and strangers. 

From raw stories of racism and invisible disability to powerful moments of passing the mic, these authors share their truths. They invite you to think about your own experiences and choices and how to be a better ally.

There are no easy answers, but this book helps you ask better questions. Self-reflection prompts, resources, journaling ideas, and further reading suggestions help you find out what you can do. Because we’re all in this together. And we all need allies. (From Penguin Randomhouse)

Allies comes out on Tuesday, September 14th and I highly recommend it for everyone. It’s a thoughtful, challenging, and inspiring read for any of us who want to try and do our better to make a world a better and more just world but don’t know how to start. It starts with listening, and these authors have some powerful thoughts to share.

Holding out for a Hero: Why I used Greek Mythology to write about modern gender violence, a guest post by Kyrie McCauley

In We Can Be Heroes, three friends navigate a devastating loss due to gun violence and their own anger in its wake. They decide to turn this anger into art and activism, painting illegal murals to raise awareness for what happened—and also to demand accountability.

Image Description: a stack of books
Image Source: author

Beck, Vivian, and Cassie create murals based on Greek mythology, and include portraits of Cassandra, Circe, Helen, Ariadne, Andromeda, and Medusa. They’re finding a way to tell Cassie’s story to the world by channeling these myths we already know so well.

The thing about the women in these myths is that they aren’t usually the center of the story. They’re a side quest, or the hero’s motivation, or they’re even written as the villain. Essentially, they’re a lesson to be learned, which is unfortunately how we still frame a lot of violence against women today.

Today we tell stories of true crime in a similar way. We have podcasts and shows and thrillers, flashing news stories that highlight the incident without any context about gender violence. The act is sensationalized, a cautionary tale at best, and sometimes even presented as entertainment. And what about the victims themselves? Often, the person gets lost in the narrative. But the stories we tell about violence matter. Especially when 1 in 4 women experience domestic violence in their lifetime. Especially when the presence of a gun in a situation of domestic violence increases the risk of homicide by 500%.[1]

Image Description: a graphic with text and sunflower petals
Image Source: Canva

In We Can Be Heroes, I bring Cassie back after her death as a ghost haunting her friends and seeking justice for what happened to her. Cassie sees her community briefly mourn her and then move on, without ever confronting the events that led to her death. Her community is better at mourning a loss than preventing one, and doesn’t seem to care to change.



Cassie was the victim of murder, but also of people turning away from the signs of an unhealthy relationship with escalating danger. The red flags were ignored or rationalized. There are patterns of violence against women in Greek mythology, too, and I wanted to highlight those similarities while telling Cassie’s modern story. The first mural the girls paint is of the prophetess Cassandra, who saw the future but was ignored, just like those red flags in Cassie’s relationship were missed.

Image Description: a stone statue of a woman
Image Source: Unsplash

I’ve listened to hundreds of stories from survivors of violence, as an advocate, a counselor, a friend. And the thing that always struck me was the echo in the room. There was the trauma itself, infuriating on its own, and then there was the follow up: not being believed. There is a lot of frustration with systems that fail victims of violence again and again.

At one point, Cassie wishes: “If only this world loved living girls as much as it loves dead ones.” I think we are good at rallying around a tragedy, but we have a lot of work to do in preventing one. And it starts with listening to and believing victims of violence. We Can Be Heroes is about reclaiming our stories. Was Medusa really the monster? Why was Andromeda sacrificed to Cetus, the sea creature? How do we talk and write about the tragic heroine?

Image Description: a graphic with text and sunflower petals
Image Source: Canva

Who gets to be called a hero? In this book, it is the teen girls. By bringing Cassie back as a ghost and giving her a point of view, I got to let her tell her own story—not just as a passive, haunting specter, and not just as another statistic, but as a furious young woman grieving the life that was stolen from her. She wants justice, but she’ll settle for vengeance. It felt good to give Cassie and her friends the rage they have so earned. And it felt good to make them fully the center of their story. The victim and the hero are the same, and if anyone is going to avenge Cassie, she will do it herself, with the help of her righteously angry friends.

By using figures from Greek mythology, and reframing the stories we tell about violence, I got to make Cassie’s message clear: We are the heroes of our own stories, and no one is allowed to rewrite us.

Meet the author

Image Description: author photo Kyrie McCauley
Image Source: author


Kyrie McCauley spent her childhood climbing trees in dresses and reading books during class. She is the author of If These Wings Could Fly, recipient of the 2021 William C. Morris Award. Kyrie holds a Master of Science in Social Policy from the University of Pennsylvania, and has worked in advocacy and development for non-profit organizations. She lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with her family, three rescue cats, and a dog that eats books and is never sorry.


Author Website: kyriemccauley.com
Resources on Violence: https://www.kyriemccauley.com/resources
Author Twitter: @kyriemccauley
Author Instagram: @kyriemccauley


About We Can Be Heroes

We Can Be Heroes

Kyrie McCauley, author of the William C. Morris YA Debut Award winner If These Wings Could Fly, delivers a powerful contemporary YA novel about the lasting bonds of friendship and three girls fighting for each other in the aftermath of a school shooting. Perfect for fans of Laura Ruby and Mindy McGinnis.

Beck and Vivian never could stand each other, but they always tried their best for their mutual friend, Cassie. After the town moves on from Cassie’s murder too fast, Beck and Vivian finally find common ground: vengeance.

They memorialize Cassie by secretly painting murals of her around town, a message to the world that Cassie won’t be forgotten. But Beck and Vivian are keeping secrets, like the third passenger riding in Beck’s VW bus with them—Cassie’s ghost. 

When their murals catch the attention of a podcaster covering Cassie’s case, they become the catalyst for a debate that Bell Firearms can no longer ignore. With law enforcement closing in on them, Beck and Vivian hurry to give Cassie the closure she needs—by delivering justice to those responsible for her death.

ISBN-13: 9780062885050
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 09/07/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Book Review: Piece by Piece: The Story of Nisrin’s Hijab by Priya Huq

Publisher’s description

In this middle-grade graphic novel, Nisrin will have to rely on faith, friends, and family to help her recover after she is the target of a hate crime

Nisrin is a 13-year-old Bangladeshi-American girl living in Milwaukie, Oregon, in 2002. As she nears the end of eighth grade, she gives a presentation for World Culture Day about Bangladesh while wearing a traditional cultural dress. On her way home, she is the victim of a hate crime when a man violently attacks her for wearing a headscarf.

Deeply traumatized by the experience, Nisrin spends the summer depressed and isolated. Other than weekly therapy, Nisrin doesn’t leave the house until fall arrives and it’s time for her to start freshman year at a new school. The night before class starts, Nisrin makes a decision. She tells her family she’s going to start wearing hijab, much to their dismay. Her mother and grandparent’s shocked and angry reactions confuse her—but they only strengthen her resolve.

This choice puts Nisrin on a path to not only discover more about Islam, but also her family’s complicated relationship with the religion, and the reasons they left Bangladesh in the first place. On top of everything else, she’s struggling to fit in at school—her hijab makes her a target for students and faculty alike. But with the help from old friends and new, Nisrin is starting to figure out what really makes her happy. Piece by Piece is an original graphic novel about growing up and choosing your own path, even if it leads you to a different place than you expected.

Amanda’s thoughts

As the publisher’s description indicates, this is a pretty intense read. Bangladeshi American Nisrin lives in the Portland, Oregon area in 2002. While walking home with her best friend Firuzeh (who is Iranian and Black) one day after 8th grade, an angry white supremacist guy accosts them and tears off Nisrin’s headscarf. The attack deeply scars both girls and Nisrin decides that when she returns to school for 9th grade, she will start wearing hijab. She feels safer this way, kind of hidden, and also has a growing interest in Islam, something her grandfather feels is “nonsense” and that they raised to “better than this.” But she begins to investigate Islam on her own, while standing out at school for her hijab. She faces racist teachers, is harassed and bullied, has her scarf ripped off again, and is called a terrorist. Thankfully, there are good things in Nisrin’s life, too. She makes a new friend, Veronica, and patches things up with Firuzeh, who was also deeply affected by the attack, but who feels like Nisrin never bothered to recognize or understand that. In addition to learning more about Islam and committing to wearing hijab, Nisrin learns about her mother’s childhood in Bangladesh and how it shaped her and how she has raised Nisrin. She gets lots of support from her mother and grandmother, as the story goes on, but still butts heads with her grandpa over her choices and growing beliefs.

This is a very emotional and powerful read, with the assault and resulting trauma coloring much of the story. Nisrin’s story touches on choices, pride, permission, acceptance, tolerance, trauma, friendship, and identity. Back matter gives readers a brief overview of Bangladesh in the form of a presentation Nisrin did in 8th grade. My review copy was in black and white, but showed some of the full-color artwork at the end and I’m going to have to at least flip through a finished copy at some point so I can fully enjoy the finished art. This unique graphic novel will educate and resonate with readers. A good addition to collections.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781419740190
Publisher: Amulet Paperbacks
Publication date: 09/14/2021
Age Range: 10 – 18 Years